Records on the Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League website only go back to the 2010-11 season, so it’s hard to delve any further than that, but regardless, it’s safe to say that it has been many years since the Kerry Park Islanders last won five games in a row.
Wins over the Saanich Braves on Saturday and Oceanside Generals on Sunday, both at Kerry Park Arena, ran the Isles’ current string of victories to five, but head coach Aaron Spotts knows there’s still a lot of hockey left to be played.
“The kids are working really hard, and they’re getting rewarded for that right now,” Islanders head coach Aaron Spotts said. “But we have lots of things to improve on and a lot of season remaining. It’s important to keep things going in the right direction, and I think good things can happen, for sure.”
Defenceman Logan Furkalo scored twice on Saturday, Brandon McClintick and Tanner Tiel each had a goal and two assists, and Evan Easton finished with a pair of assists as the Isles beat the Braves 4-2.
After an excellent start to the season, things have slowed down for the Braves recently, and they came into Saturday’s game with a lot of motivation that the Isles were ready for.
“It was almost a playoff-style game,” Spotts said.
After a scoreless opening period, the Braves got on the board first midway through the second, but Tiel answered back soon after. Furkalo gave the Isles a lead in the third before the Braves scored their second.
McClintick broke the tie with 59 seconds remaining, and Furkalo fired the puck into an empty net with two seconds left.
The Braves outshot the Isles 15-8 in the third period, but Rett Rook turned aside 14 shots, part of a 33-save night for the veteran netminder.
Spotts half-expected a letdown from Saturday’s excitement as his team prepared to face the Generals on Sunday, but that’s not what happened.
“I was a little nervous after the emotional playoff kind of atmosphere on Saturday, but the guys were ready to play,” he said. “That’s something we’ve talked about; not getting too high and not too low.”
The Isles got a pair of powerplay goals on Sunday as they beat the Generals 6-1, the powerplay getting a boost as defenceman Dawson Blanchette returned from injury.
Tiel, McClintick and Isaac Leik each had three points on Sunday, while Easton had a goal and an assist and Blanchette registered a pair of helpers.
Tiel opened the scoring with a first-period powerplay goal, and Easton struck on another man advantage early in the second. Alex Engan, Leik and Matt Baird added to the onslaught in the middle frame before Oceanside finally got on the board at 4:56 of the third. Tiel added his second of the game a few minutes after that.
Rook, who got both starts on the weekend after sitting out the previous four games with a nagging injury, made 33 saves for the win. Rook and fellow goalie Charles-Olivier Lepage are doing an excellent job of sharing duties, Spotts pointed out.
“They’re both experienced, team-first guys,” he said. “They have a good relationship. They make each other better by battling hard, but they support each other, and that’s important when you have a goaltending duo like that.”
That sort of commitment is matched by the rest of the team.
“Whether they’re third- and fourth-line players, everybody is buying into their role, and that’s why we’re able to have success that way,” Spotts said. “It’s definitely exciting to be part of. It’s fun to be around. But obviously there’s a lot of work to get to where we want to be toward the end of the year.”
In the standings, the Isles have moved into a tie with the Braves for second in the South Division with 42 points. Next up for Kerry Park is a home-and-home series with the fifth-place Westshore Wolves. The teams play at the Q Centre on Wednesday and in Mill Bay on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. Saturday’s game is the team’s annual game in memory of Nick Collins.
The Isles are 3-0 against Westshore this year, but Spotts is still wary of the Wolves.
“I think they’re a team that’s a lot better than their record,” he said. “We’ve got to get up for going down the Q Centre. It’s a hard arena to get up in because it’s so quiet, but we’ve got to go in with energy and ready to play.”